Tag Archives: books

Disney Readalong Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about taking part in the Disney Readalong from 6th-12thMay. There were five challenges:

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I allowed myself to extend the challenge into Sunday 13thMay, as most of the Saturday evening was taken up with the Eurovision Song Contest. Work was really busy that week as well, meaning I didn’t get as much time for reading as I would have liked due to being super tired when I got home each evening. But I did complete three of the prompts!

 

1) Frozen – a book set in winter: I read Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf. This book was brilliant if a little hard to follow when reading in a tired state of mind. It felt like it was semi-autobiographical, I’m not sure if it was or not. The book follows Alicia as she navigates adulthood with divorced parents and an autistic sibling – the eponymous brother, whom she feels is trapped as if in an ice block – and tries to make her way both in work and relationships. This narrative is interspersed with research into polar exploration, anecdotes about successful and unsuccessful attempts to reach the North and South poles and related scientific discoveries. These are woven into the storyline so Alicia’s story as she applies her research to her own life. I really enjoyed this book, I’ve never read anything else like it. I will definitely be rereading it when I am more awake so I can take more in and appreciate the writing more.

 

3) Aurora’s Dress – a book with pink and blue on the cover: I read The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley. I am a big fan of the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, the accompanying novel, last year. I loved this spin-off/sequel which follows Lydia as she tries to recover from the fallout of the scandal that occurred during Lizzie’s vlog series (it is a bit different from the Pride and Prejudice storyline as it is modernised so I won’t give away any spoilers). One of my favourite things about the series is the exploration of the relationship between the sisters. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, Lydia in the book feels like a plot device used to bring Lizzy and Darcy together, and is quite caricatured. In the webseries and accompanying novels, Lydia is very much her own character, with agency and real, deep emotions. It was great to catch up with these characters again and get a glimpse of what comes next in their stories.

 

5) Cinderella – read the Grimm fairytale and watch the Disney movie. I used to watch this film in French all the time so it felt weird that I opted to watch it in English this time. I had forgotten how sappy and instalove-y the film is, but it has good music and I love the little animal creatures (especially Lucifer the cat who is one of the better Disney villains). I was surprised how different the fairytale is, there are three balls for one thing. I’m looking forward to reading more of the Grimm fairytales as I only recognise a few of the titles.

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So that was my first prompted readathon! I enjoyed the experience but will maybe check out my work schedule before taking part in another one.

Readathons and other bookish things

Sorry it’s been a while again. April turned into a surprisingly busy month, which came and went in a flurry of activity and weather. And then May snuck in out of nowhere and took me by surprise – but I think things should settle down into more of a routine now.

So I thought I’d bring you an update on my reading/book buying/writing New Years Resolutions and how they are going. Short answer: things never go to plan, do they?!

Writing is the quickest one to cover – I’ve not been doing much (can you tell?) but I still intend to do more. I’m trying to figure a few things out about the future at the moment, including how writing will fit into it, but I do miss writing fiction and I want to make more time for that in my life. I will get there!

In terms of buying books, I have fallen off the wagon a few times… Of the fifteen books I have bought so far this year, five were for Ninjabookclub and one was in a Ninjabookbox. Two my Vicar recommended to help with the whole figuring out the future thing (he would have lent them to me but someone else was borrowing them). That leaves seven which I have no excuse for, other than that they were cheap or signed copies and I wanted them. Still I certainly have had worse starts to the year in terms of book buying. I’m aiming to read all the books I buy this year this year in an attempt to justify their purchase (one of them is no. 4 in a series, of which I have only read one so far, so that will be fun…)

I have had some success in unhauling this year, though. In January my parents and I sorted through a number of boxes they are keeping in their attic for me, which included many books I had kept from my childhood. I gave two boxes to friends for their kids and one box to a charity shop. Since then I have also weeded out a few more from my shelves which I was not excited about reading any more. I am also stricter with myself about not keeping books I have read unless I gave them 4 or more stars.

Each year I set my Goodreads target as one higher than the number of books I read the previous year, meaning my target for this year is 78 books. Currently I have read 29, which is three books ahead of schedule. You would think that this would mean my TBR is decreasing, but, surprisingly, it is not. The main problem is how easily I can request books from the library. Southampton City Libraries allow you to request any books from any of their libraries for free, and they have a great range. I have borrowed fifteen books from the library this year so far, eight of which I have read and seven I am currently borrowing.

So my TBR shelf on Goodreads has only gone down by four since the start of the year. And I’m not even sure I’ve added all the books I bought to it…

So in an attempt to address this I have started coming up with a monthly TBR, which includes a mixture of books I have bought and borrowed. I am usually a bit ambitious to allow for mood reading. I am going to try not to borrow any more library books until I have read everything I have borrowed from family and friends as well. And I’m going to try EVEN HARDER not to buy books other than for NinjaBookClub… (let’s see how that goes!)

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Last weekend was Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon, which I took part in for the first time. I joined over 1900 other readers and together we read half a million pages in 24 hours. I wasn’t able to join in the whole 24 hours, but I did enjoy focusing on reading time instead of watching tv, etc. I will take part in the next one in October for sure. I am also on the lookout for other readathons/readalongs I can take part in, to help tackle my TBR with focused reading. This one was easy because there were no stipulations as to genres or categories. I have come across several intriguing sounding readathons on BookTube (the bookish area of YouTube) that I have thought about taking part in but I would have had to resort to buying books for some of the prompts and we already know I am trying to avoid that!

But the other day I came across a readathon with fewer categories and I already had books to meet all of them! So today I have started the Disney Readalong, hosted on BookTube by Cherrie Walker, Tiny Book Dragon and Cristina’s Journey. The readathon is from 6-12thMay and there are five prompts as follows:

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Here is my TBR for the week:

  1. Frozen: Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf– I’m not sure if this is actually set in Winter but it is about Polar Exploration so I think it counts.
  2. Dory: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne– this was the hardest category as I am generally pretty aware of what books I own (despite there being so many) but I was surprised to see this on my bookshelf so it got picked
  3. Aurora’s Dress: The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley– actually this was pretty hard too as I had loads of books with one or the other colour but I like that I found one where the colours are actually clothing. I am a big fan of the YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet last year so I am happy to be finally reading this one.
  4. Huey, Dewey & Louie: The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan– this is the second book in the Mary Finch trilogy. I read the first, The Blackstone Key, last autumn and loved it so I have been keen to get around to this one.
  5. Cinderella:Although I slightly disagree that Grimm was the original version (I think Charles Perrault’s version predates theirs, and I’m not even sure his was the original) it does give me a good excuse to finally read my gorgeous edition of Grimm’s fairytales. Although I only have to read Cinderella for the prompt, I will also be reading the rest as my next short story collection to read. And it’s never a problem to have to watch a Disney movie. This one has probably my least favourite prince, but it’s worth watching just for Lucifer the cat.

 

They are all fairly short – The Counterfeit Guest is the longest but based on the first in the series it won’t be too challenging a read and I am saving it for last anyway! I started Brother in Ice this morning and it is really good so far. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it before.

I will be tweeting my reading for the week, probably from my personal twitter rather than the blog twitter (@cerilouisew rather than @mayibethemoon) but please feel free to follow both accounts…!!

 

 

Book Review: Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow

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I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.

I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.

The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.

I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.

I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.

One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.

New Year’s Resolutions Part One – Reading and Writing Goals

2017 was a big year for me. I turned 30, moved back out from my parents’ house into one I partially own, and completed the final part of my Masters, including a 15000 word dissertation.

You may have noticed that one of the things to take a back seat in the last year was this blog, as I while I was studying I just did not have the time to spare on writing for fun, and since finishing my course in October I have needed to give my brain a rest. But I miss all the writing, the stringing together of words in new and meaningful ways. So one of my goals for 2018 is to get back into good writing habits. I intend to post on here a lot more frequently than last year – I’m aiming for at least once a week. I’m also working toward more variety in what I post. I want to practice more creative writing, but also review more books and films, to share some of what influences me creatively. I would like to share some reflections from what I learnt from my course, and get back into blogging my Bible studies. So look out for a more eclectic mix of posts from me in the future. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. I recognise that some of that might not appeal to you, dear reader, but I hope you find something that you like and stick with me for the rest, as there might be something that surprises you. I don’t know. I am still trying to find my voice and work out what kind of a writer I am.

Outside of the blog, I also had several novels I was working on before I had to put them on the back burner while studying, so I will be reviving them. I’m aiming to finish a first draft of at least one of them before the summer of 2019 (as per my #Next5 goals from 2014) so I will be dedicating time to work on them too.

I haven’t quite worked out exactly how to make myself more disciplined in my writing yet, but it will probably involve setting aside an hour a day for a certain number of days per week for focused writing, on whatever topic. One thing I am definitely going to do is not put off writing reviews – when I read a book or see a film that I want to write about I will aim to get my thoughts down that week while it is fresh. Earlier this year I read a book that meant a lot to me and I really intended to review it, but before I knew it months had passed and I couldn’t really remember all the details that I wanted to share. So no more procrastinating. (On which note, I feel proud of myself as I have already written two reviews today, which I will be sharing here soon! Go me starting my resolutions early!)

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One of the delightful aspects of having my own place again was that I was able to unpack all my boxes of books that had been in storage for three years. Unfortunately this has also lead to an explosion of my TBR list, not helped by my addiction to buying books (I bought over 50 books this year, and was given around 30, not to mention ones I’ve borrowed from the library. My Goodreads to read shelf currently has 549 items on it). So, as I am severely running out of shelf space, I recognise the need to not buy more books next year.

The slight problem with not buying ANY books (other than that I don’t think I could cope with going cold turkey) is that one of the greatest joys of my life this year has been discovering the #Ninjabookcommunity – I subscribe to the quarterly #Ninjabookbox and have loved discovering more great independently published books through #Ninjabookclub. Of my top three books of the year, one was from a #Ninjabookbox (Star Shot by Mary Ann Constantine, published by Seren books) and one was our #Ninjabookclub pick for November (How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, published by Salt). The third I received from my partner in the #Ninjabookswap (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, although I don’t know if the publisher Walker books are independent as that was not a requirement of the swap and I can’t find the list at the moment).

So instead of cutting out bookbuying entirely, I will be attempting in 2018 to only buy ninja-related books – as in, they are in the #ninjabookbox, for #ninjabookclub or bought on a #ninjaorganised bookshop crawl (which I am hoping to take part in). I’m aiming for less than 20. The ONLY exception will be if I can stick to this until December I will treat myself to J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas as 2018 is also going to be my year for re-reading Tolkien and it will be Christmas.

This means that I am kind-of accidentally taking part in #Ninjabookbox’s #IndieChallenge – to buy more/only independently published books in 2018. I have discovered so many great books this year that I would not have come across otherwise through the Ninja influence that I am now a firm supporter of Independent publishers and want to help promote their books to a wider audience.

I have set other limits for myself as to how many books I am allowed to borrow or reread, but my main goal is to get my TBR list down to a more reasonable amount. I know that one year is not going to make a great deal of difference so I will have to see how long I can stick to this…

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So there you have it, my Writing and Reading goals for 2018. I have a couple of other things I want to work on for myself, which I will share in the not-to-distant future.

#30by30 number 30.2 – join a book club

This item didn’t make it onto my original list because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make time to fit it in. But with the wonders of modern technology I have found a lovely online bookish community (which counts, as far as I’m concerned). And I fear that a couple of my other tasks may not be quite achievable so adding extras will hopefully cover the ones that get missed…

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I came across a blog talking about ninjabookbox late last autumn – it originated in a Kickstarter campaign which I was immediately gutted I had missed out on. Ninjabookbox is a book subscription service – every quarter subscribers receive an independently published book and a number of related gifts – the amount of gifts vary depending on your level of subscription. I was intrigued by the idea and so I signed up for the mailing list. Shortly before each box goes on sale its theme is announced, so as soon as I heard that the next box was ‘A Shakespearean mystery’ I couldn’t resist ordering the mini box (the book and one gift), you know, just to see. I was so enamoured when I received it that it wasn’t long before I signed up for a recurring mini box subscription. I also found out that there were a few of the original box left, so I quickly got myself one of those too…

So I have now received three of the quarterly boxes and have loved all three books – my first was The Bookman’s Tale, the Shakespearean mystery in which an antiquarian bookseller is launched into a complex tale of bribery, forgery, and danger when he comes a cross a Victorian watercolour which looks exactly like his late wife. The first book (and the second one I received) was Star Shot – an instant winner with me because it is set in my favourite city of them all, Cardiff. The story is a bit surreal, and follows various characters who stories beautifully overlap as they try to make sense of a web of silence that slowly seems to be seeping across the city. The third box came in May and I just finished the book this weekend – Dragon’s Green – a fantasy novel for children in which the main characters find their hidden strengths and learn the power of friendship, bravery and books. I also gave into temptation and bought the summer special box – A Grand Adventure – which contained three books, and I have just started the first of these.

 

Part of the idea of the boxes is that there will be a chance to discuss the books with other subscribers, this has yet to find its best format, but I’m already enjoying the engagement with other readers I have found through the forum on the website and on twitter. And its not just about the books in the boxes, for our Summer Reading Challenge we have each picked our own books to read over the summer and encouragements and recommendations have abounded.

My two favourite things about the ninjabookbox are:

  • The books – I have loved each of them so far and they are not books I would have found on my own.
  • The charms – each book comes with a small charm (like for a bracelet) which is linked in some way to the book. For some the link is obvious (the Shakespeare book was a quill) but for others it is only in reading the book that the link becomes clear.

 

So, hopefully I’ve succeeded in recommending the ninjabookbox to you. If you would like to find out more, head over to their website at www.ninjabookbox.com where you can sign up to their mailing list or buy lots of lovely bookish things in their shop. The August boxes go on sale soon too! (I think there may even be a few summer special boxes left). If you do want to buy anything, you can get a 15% discount by using the code CERI15 – this can be applied to anything except the quarterly recurring subscriptions.

 

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Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

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I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

Rhi’s Fundraising Challenge

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One of the best things about having a blog is getting to tell some amazing stories, even when they are not my own… I have some pretty awesome friends and this week I want to share the fundraising exploits of my friend Rhi. I’ve asked her to tell you all a little of what she’s up to in the next few weeks:

‘As a part of a charity apprenticeship that I’m completing this year with the charity Child.org, I’m running a challenge fundraiser at the end of April. The challenge is called ‘Survive on Five’ and I will be living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds and awareness of children living in poverty in Ghana and Kenya. Child.org works to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing them with access to quality health care, education, water and food. Key projects include HealthStart which teaches life skills, provides family planning information and provides malaria nets and deworming treatment as well as school feeding programmes which consistently provide nutritious meals, helping children not to have to worry where their next meal will come from. As well as my fundraising challenge, I am currently creating a product called Mystery Books which I hope to take around local fayres and events. I will also be running an event in the autumn as well as other fundraising ideas so watch this space’

I personally am very excited about the mystery books, being such a bookworm…! Rhi describes this as: ‘Mystery books are wrapped up books with clues on the front – buy a literary present for yourself and helping children at the same time!’ I understand that Rhi is parting with books from her own collection so they will all come with her recommendation. If you fancy a blind date with a good book you need look no further!

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If you want to support Rhi, you can donate here: http://child.org/me/food-fiver-challenge

Book Review: ‘Everyday Isn’t Perfect’ by Dr K.L. Register

 

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I have been following KL’s blog  ‘The Ninth Life‘ for some time now, and I always get a little excited when bloggers I like announce book releases. Unfortunately, I have a strict rule in place about buying books at the moment, so this volume was languishing on my Amazon wishlist for a while until a kind friend spotted it there and bought it for me for my birthday.

If you read KL’s blog, you will probably recognise some of the stories as they have appeared there, but I like having them all in one cute little book that I can refer back to.

My first favourite thing about this book is the title. I didn’t get together with my friends to celebrate my birthday until a few days later. On the way to the restaurant, several of us had been complaining about how upsetting and stressful our work days had been. So a little bit later when I was opening my presents after dinner, and I pulled this book out of the giftwrap, we all had a laugh at the appropriateness of the title on that day. In itself, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be discouraged when things go wrong, we can just shrug, and say ‘Everyday isn’t perfect!’ knowing that we have a new opportunity the next day.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a collection of short stories, essays and poems, each one no more than a couple of pages long. Some are accounts from her own life, some are entertaining encounters with her patients (she is a dentist), some are more general thoughts on life. I choose to read a couple of ‘chapters’ each evening to make me smile before going to bed, but you could just as easily read one at the start of each day to help put you in a good mood for the day – something I will probably do the next time I read it.

KL writes with honesty, wit and humour. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book is probably because we have a similar outlook on life. Although we have had very different experiences, her writing is very relatable and is full of encouragement to be brave, have faith, and to love yourself. Heartily recommended for anyone who needs a bit of a boost.

(To get yourself a copy, head over to The Ninth Life and follow the links)

Rule of Life and Book Review of ‘God in my Everything’ by Ken Shigematsu

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It’s been over a month since I finished this book, so it won’t be a thorough review, more a suggestion that it is a really good book to read if you are a very busy person struggling to fit God into your day to day life.

We were reading this in our home groups at church between May and July this year. We read a chapter or two per week and discussed it together – what we were learning, how we were trying to put it into practice. The book centres around spiritual disciplines, and how to build in rhythms of moments with God into your everyday experience. I found it really encouraging. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time, it was a good reminder to REST (which may have been my word for the year and is still something I’m not very good at).

I finished the book whilst I was in Moldova, meaning I missed the last couple of weeks of discussing it with my homegroup, but also that it became part of the general wake-up call I received from God at that time. I’d been drifting slightly for a couple of months in my relationship with God – one of the dangers of theological study is that God becomes just the subject you are studying and there is a tendency to forget that it is meant to be a relationship. I was clinging on because it was a stressful time, but I wasn’t really listening to what He was saying to me. This book, and then my Moldova trip, was God saying, ‘Hang on, are you listening to me? Yoohoo! Over here when you’re ready…!’

I was reading the chapter about outreach on our last day of the girls camp in Moldova. The need we saw in Moldova was a little overwhelming, and at times it was difficult to believe that our efforts would actually make any difference. Then I read this:

‘When we serve we experience joy and find ourselves drawn closer to God, but there will also be times when our efforts feel like a drop in an ocean of human need. Remember, Scripture tells us that our work will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Nothing done with and for Christ in this present time will be wasted in God’s future. It will find its way into the new world.’ (p 195)

It was so powerful in that moment that it brought tears to my eyes. I read it out to some of my teammates and we were all encouraged to be reminded that nothing we had done was wasted in God’s economy.

I’ve drafted a rule of life for myself now, simple goals to keep me on track with God, with my health and with my work/life/study balance. I thought about sharing it on here, and maybe I will at some point, but for now I think it’s just for me to keep reflecting on alone. But I encourage you to read the book for yourself and to work on ways to build in rhythms of spiritual discipline into your own life.

Book Review – The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly

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First, I feel I should preface this by saying I know Gerard and his wife Chrissy through Bless, the missional charity they run serving churches across Europe. My links with Bless date back almost ten years now, I love the work that they do and feel privileged to have been involved with it. I’m not saying this to name-drop (I know an author!) but so you understand that my review is not unbiased! 😉

I have read most of Gerard’s non-fiction works and greatly enjoyed them (especially Stretch, Stretch was brilliant), so I was really excited when I heard he had written a novel, promptly pre-ordered it, waited impatiently for it to be delivered, and then waited a year and a half to actually read it… such is the state of my to-read list, and for that I can only apologise.

It was definitely worth the wait though! Gerard is a gifted communicator – whether in sermons, blogs, poetry, tweets – and his style translated well into fiction.

The story follows Colom, a teenage boy who has recently developed behavioural problems, and his mother Fiona as she tries to help him. Her husband, David, is a pastor and reluctant to seek help from outside the church, and their home has become a battleground. Fiona seeks the help of Miriam, and old friend, former nun and therapist, who gives Fiona and Colom refuge as they try to work through his problems.

The descriptions were almost tangible, the characters mostly well-rounded, although there were a few gaps in the backstories and I wanted to see more of David and his point of view. The story didn’t develop the way I expected it to, which is usually a good thing (!) and the novel as a whole was really emotionally engaging as the revelations about the family’s past came to light and the relationships shifted and deepened. I liked the continuing motif of the weather and how it paralleled and even prophesied the characters’ emotional states. I also enjoyed the sections of first person narrative, from an unknown narrator who wasn’t revealed until nearly the end – the way these were written they could have been attributed to several characters, and different ones at different points.

My only slight disappointed was the fault of my expectations. After the first couple of chapters I was expecting this to be a book about how a church community reacts and deals with mental illness and the failings of its leaders – it didn’t go that direction, and was a more personal story because of that. The novel was great as it was, and did in some ways deal with the issues – particularly of how to help someone suffering from mental illness – but for me that church community aspect was lacking. I guess I wanted a couple of extra chapters of epilogue to cover the family reunion and the aftermath for their relationships and David’s pastoral ministry.

I still think the way this novel deals with the issue of mental illness is really timely for the church, as it has been a taboo subject for so long. The novel provides an insight for those working with young people, and a challenge for parents who are involved in church leadership on balancing their families and their ministry.